Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May recipe challenge: tarte aux pommes

May has been a busy month. We've either been out of town or completely booked every weekend, so this month's challenge was pushed to the last possible day that still allowed me to blog about it before June arrived. Within two hours of landing at Reagan Airport on Memorial Day after our weekend trip to Key Biscayne, I was on my date with Julia Child and her first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in my kitchen.

This month's challenge involved baking. Dough and crusts continue to challenge me. Baking is not my strength because I'm horrible at sticking to a recipe.

I don't have many pictures to share because I confess that I hurried through this recipe. As I was putting the tart into the oven, I realized my major mistake: I forgot to semi-bake the crust before filling it.

I tried to make up for this oversight by baking the tart on a lower rack in the oven and for longer than the recipe called for. I think it turned out okay.

Here is the tart right as I popped it into the oven.

And finished, finally! I find that I usually have to bake my dishes much longer than Julia says I will.

Although the crust was not semi-baked in advance and turned out uneven (see below), I did have one major success with this dish: when I released the sides of the Springform pan, the tart STOOD ALONE--as it was supposed to--and didn't instantly collapse as last month's challenge did! Wahoo!

Like my other creations, it wasn't as pretty as it should have been, but it tasted great! There is nothing like a piping hot tart, cobbler, or pie, slathered in melting vanilla ice cream.

Friday, May 27, 2011

vacation, part 1

Brad's taking a new job nixed our plans of our typical week-long getaway over our anniversary (next week) because being new and swamped in a job, he can't take a week off right now. And, traveling in August, when most Hill staffers take leave, is too close to my due date. So, we're compromising by getting our beach time in over two long weekends this summer: Memorial Day and July 4th.

Leg one begins today. Key Biscayne, here we come!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

lone peony

If I've learned anything about gardening, it's that perennials require patience. My first hydrangea bush didn't bloom at all the first summer, produced two flowers the second summer, and then up and died suddenly, causing me to replace it this year, and start all over. (Not to mention the fact that after two years, I'm still trying to turn them blue.)

I planted three peony bushes in the front yard last spring. None of them bloomed. One produced a bud, but it never opened. This year, one peony bush produced one bud and it finally opened, kind of.

Here it is, on the verge of true beauty.

And then it drooped over and started to turn brown before reaching its full glory. It still smelled lovely, though.

Remind me again--perennials are worth it in the long run, right?

Monday, May 23, 2011

close calls

Photo credit: goodvibeblog.com
Brad didn't believe me when I told him that friends had shared stories of others touching their pregnant stomachs unsolicited, until he witnessed my two close calls last weekend.

The first instance happened at the wedding Brad was in a week ago. We were saying goodbye to the bride, whom I had met all of two times before the wedding, when she hugged me and wished us luck with the baby while her hand drifted dangerously close to my tiny belly. I scooted away instantly, waving goodbye and calling best wishes, just in the nick of time. Watch out for those hugs, Gentle Readers, they are merely a disguise for belly groping.

The second incident, which occurred the next morning with a friend of Brad's parents at their church, was a bit more traumatizing and I'm still recovering from it. This woman, while good intentioned, can, even on her best days, be overwhelming, so I was a little nervous about running into her. She saw us coming down a large, open staircase after the church service and shrieked Brad's and my names. The morning was cold and rainy, and the church was freezing with the air still blasting, so I had wrapped a shawl around myself to stay warm. When I neared the bottom of the stairs, where she conveniently waited to pounce on me, she said, "Well, let's have a look at you!" and ripped my shawl open to stare at my stomach. When I hastily tried to cover back up and murmured, "There's not much to see...", she bellowed, "Let me see you!" and tried to violate me again. At that time, her hands were frighteningly near my tummy, so I backed away, forgetting I was on the steps, and nearly fell down the rest of them. Noticing my obvious discomfort, she then said, "How are you handling all this attention?" and I snapped, "Not well," and she said, "Well, get over it!"

Isn't she a peach?

Brad then came to my rescue, changed the subject, and like any husband who knows what's good for him, got me out of there ASAP.

Even under normal circumstances, unsolicited belly touching would have rankled me. But now, after enduring months of poking, prodding, and the like because of fertility treatments, I have no tolerance for eager hands anywhere near my stomach, unless they belong to Brad. Now that I've finally regained some privacy with my body, I will fight to hang on to it.

I had expected some of this attempted fondling, but what concerns me most is that I'm barely showing. I'm a little thicker in the middle, but I haven't developed that beautiful, round mound that even the most restrained of hands would find irresistible. Tell me, Gentle Readers, is this just the beginning? Will it only get worse over the next, Lord willing, 16 weeks? Should I crawl into my hidey-hole today and not reappear until I have to in September?

I'm tempted. That hidey-hole is calling my name.

Friday, May 20, 2011

backyard beauty

After 18 bags of black mulch, 150 feet of weed control fabric, countless trips to Frager's, Lowe's, Home Depot, Gingko Gardens, and Behnke Nurseries, and several weekends of solid work, Brad and I are finally done with our yard prep for this year. Now we just need to maintain it all, which is no small feat!

Let's take a tour of the backyard, shall we?

I'm proud to say that the long bed in the right of the picture contains ALL perennials--roses, hyndrangeas, azaleas, columbine, and honeysuckle--a switch for me because I'm such a sucker for the vibrant annuals! Assuming that everything lives and thrives, I shouldn't have to do any other planting here in future years. You can see my newly remodeled bed in the background (the rhododendrons).

My precious herb garden, well on its way to getting out of control...

My regular garden: peas, Mesclun greens, chives, green beans, tomatoes, and peppers.

A view of the back of the house--bright annuals on all levels and hanging baskets on the first-floor deck!

Flowers in boxes on our second-floor deck--I love walking home from the farmers market behind our house to see these petunias peeping over the railing at me.

A bird's-eye snapshot of our backyard, taken by leaning over the railing of our second-floor deck. Our grass is looking a little better.

The sad thing is, although plenty of people see my front yard, few people see the backyard. I guess I need to entertain more. But, even if no one else ever sees it, my heart still fills with joy every time I walk out back or look out the kitchen window. Flowers--they make me happy.

Happy gardening!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

the vision: complete

The overhauls to my front and back yards are finally done! Step one included cutting down the tree  in the front yard and building a flowerbed in the wasteland between the public sidewalk and the curb. Step two involved removing the decrepit front walk and installing a new brick walk. I beautified the front yard for step three. And finally, to conclude my vision, I ripped out the jungle in the back yard in front of the deck and replanted the bed.

This "before" picture was taken two years ago, right after we moved in, so imagine how overgrown and crazy this bed had gotten since then.

I don't know what all was growing there, but it was a hot mess. So, I tore everything out and researched shade friendly, flowering shrubs that would eventually grow tall enough to close the gap between the ground and the bottom of the deck. (I chose lovely evergreen rhododendrons and filled in with some extra hostas and impatiens that I had.) And, voila--I present my masterpiece below!

The rhododendrons are blooming right now, and I know they won't look like this for long, but I will enjoy their beauty while I can. My outdoor vision is now complete, and I've decided that I'm never moving out of this house. After putting this much thought, time, money, and work into the yard, I can't bear the thought of turning it over to someone else who will either not appreciate it, neglect it, destroy it, or all of the above!

Nope, I'm staying here. Forever.

Stay tuned for pictures of the rest of the back yard.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

my new cocktails

Growing up, I was forced to drink a glass of milk with dinner each night. As soon as my parents allowed me to stop, I did. I don't recall drinking a glass of milk since I was a child.

Until now. Oh, the sacrifices you make for your child, even when he or she is in utero.

I started choking down a glass of milk once a day during the early months of pregnancy, and once my nausea subsided, I upped it to two glasses a day. The only way I can get the frothy nastiness down is to hold my breath and chug it. It's not pretty. Brad voluntarily drinks milk every night. I wish I enjoyed it like he does.

I will say, though, that milk, as much as I detest it, is far preferable to my other cocktail these days, something that makes me gag each time I drink it, which thankfully, has only been during times of sheer desperation.

Prune juice.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

more steps

All, sorry if this entry is a repeat for some of you. I scheduled it to post early Thursday morning, and it did, for a little while at least. But then Blogger had some kind of outage that messed everything up. So, here it is again. Happy reading!

Photo Credit: www.hhaceremony.com
Brad's in a wedding this weekend, and for weeks, I've been stressed about what I would wear to the wedding and rehearsal dinner. Although I've been making do with my work and casual clothes (thank you, BeBands!), I didn't have any dresses appropriate for a wedding that I could wear, so I took a deep breath and braved the maternity store circuit last week. This was a big step for me, but a necessary one, and I had some success.

This shopping excursion triggered several observations:

1. How do employees of maternity stores expect to make sales when they say things like this, "You're 21 weeks? NO WAY! Are you sure?", or this, "You're shopping for yourself?! You don't even look pregnant!" I realize they are trying to compliment me, which I appreciate. And, as long as Baby's alive and healthy, I'm thrilled that I'm 22 weeks and haven't blown up in size yet--there's plenty of time for that later. But come on, people. I am getting thicker in the middle and I have gained a little weight. Maybe I am just good at disguising weight gain, which, upon further consideration, may not be a bad talent to have.

2. I adore new clothes. And no matter the reason for buying them, I love loading a dressing room, trying on everything in the store multiple times in various sizes, and then wearing my new outfits as soon as I can. And, I haven't bought new clothes in ages, so I am enjoying a change in my wardrobe. I wore my first maternity garment over the weekend and it was fine. I'm ecstatic to buy maternity clothes for only hot weather. My regular wardrobe will suffice for the few remaining chilly days of spring.

3. Despite nearly everyone telling me that I don't look pregnant, the clothes actually fit better than I expected, making me feel justified in shopping for them. I was tempted to run out of the dressing room and shout to the clerks who made me feel silly for being there, "See, I DO have a little belly! There IS a baby in there!" I dreaded that the clothes would hang on me like a tent, which isn't my style, but the outfits I bought fit great right now and still give me room to grow, Lord willing.

Steps related more to me than directly to Baby, such as shopping for maternity clothes, are easier to make. That's why acquiring a baby item during week 20 felt like a huge accomplishment--I find I'm still shying away from deciding or even thinking about names, furniture, registry, and nursery decor, among many other things. But, I just need to keep plugging. I'll get there eventually.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

front yard, check!

Brad and I spent more than five hours on Saturday placing weed control fabric over every inch of our planting space in the front and back yards and mulching, until we ran out of supplies. We had bought tickets for the Capitol Hill House and Garden tour that afternoon, and didn't take into account all the walking and step climbing we'd be doing on the tour when we tackled our yard work on Saturday morning. We could barely move on Saturday night!

The front yard is done, and once we finish the back yard, after buying and placing more lawn fabric and mulch, I'll post those pictures.

My parents visited about a month ago, and they helped me add a level to my flower bed to keep people and dogs from walking through it.  In this bed, I have a mix of perennials (Hostas, Blue Star Lithodora, Aztec White Verbena) and annuals (Gerber Daisies, Dahlias, and several types of Lilies).

I approached the front yard with a similar plan--a mix of perennials (Peonies, Phlox, Caladium, and some Encore Azaleas that like sun and should bloom spring, summer, and fall!!) and annuals (Dianthus, Dahlias, Stock, Snapdragons, and Gladiolus).

Here's the full view.

I love these early pictures when everything looks impeccably organized and tidy. But, I can't wait for full bloom!

Monday, May 9, 2011

dining room updates

I haven't touched the dining room since last year's art frenzy. If you recall, one blank wall remained.

Brad and I recently stumbled upon a perfect print to fill this wall. It's huge and goes with our "places" theme in the room. It's a drawing of Washington, DC circa 1892. Our current house isn't on the map because it was built in 1915. We love it that our current block is farmland in the picture. Take a peek.

I need something decorative to place on the buffet because the faux flower arrangement was too tall and has been moved. Here's a closer look at the print.

I moved the faux flower arrangement to another corner of the room. It now has its own stand.

If we ever live in a city other than the nation's capital, we will constantly be explaining our obsession with DC-themed artwork.

Friday, May 6, 2011

the invasion begins

My sweet and wise friend who talked me into purchasing and wearing belly bands has struck again, although she didn't intend to.

Before I share this story, let me say that my small steps each week are 100% spontaneous. I have not once planned out steps for particular weeks or thought ahead to what I will do at certain milestones. I do what seems necessary and feels somewhat comfortable for that week, and if nothing fits both of those conditions, I do nothing. I've really turned over a new leaf as far as spontaneity and shunning the to-do list goes, which is incredibly refreshing.

Last week, I got invited to join my church's Google group for moms and moms-to-be. I gulped and clicked "accept" on the invitation, thinking it would be my small step for week 20. I went to my 20-week appointment the next morning, checked my email afterward, and saw that my friend had advertised to the group that she was giving away a Fisher-Price Space Saver Swing and Seat. On a high from the good doctor's report and motivated by the words "free" and "space saving", I immediately responded to claim the seat/swing.

I mean, I had no choice but to act quickly, right? Someone else would have claimed that seat/swing if I didn't.

I stopped by my friend's house the next day to pick it up. I knew if I waited much longer, I'd chicken out. Not that she'd let me out of taking it, of course. She pumped me up about this first baby item entering my house and how proud she was of my "small step" for week 20.

And that is how this foreign object ended up in Brad's and my current guest room, future home, Lord willing, of Baby.

This contraption looks strange and out of place in our very adult house. I keep peeking at it, and reminding myself that it's for Brad's and my baby and not a gift for someone else's. Baby may not come home to a crib, many clothes, or a finished nursery, but at least he or she will have a place to sit.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

first harvest

I adore my little garden.

I am becoming an expert at gardening in small spaces. I like having a yard with plenty of grass, so I got creative this year with my vegetable planting so I wouldn't be tempted to dig up any more of our already small lawn.

In the photo below, in the pots from left to right, you'll see the following: two pots of peas, one red bell pepper and one yellow bell pepper in the long box sitting on top of the raised bed, and two pots of tomatoes (one heirloom "Bradley" plant--couldn't resist the name--and one cherry tomato plant) sitting on top of the second raised bed. In the left raised bed, you'll see my Mesclun greens with chives taking up one small corner and green beans in the other bed.

My Mesclun greens are going crazy and I harvested the first batch this weekend to make a salad for my book club meeting. They were delicious and tasted exactly like what I buy at my beloved farmers market behind my house for $7/pound. (Two packages of Mesclun greens seeds cost me no more than $3. I know that lettuce is a spring crop and won't last through the summer, but I'm thrilled to grow my own and to harvest it myself for as long as I can.)

And I can't forget my beloved herb garden. Sage, oregano, peppermint, spearmint, thyme, and rosemary all came back on their own. I sowed seeds for my regulars--basil, parsley, dill, cilantro--as well as two new ones this year--lavender and tarragon.

I love these early pictures when everything is neat and tidy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

progress on The Count

Guess which book belongs to Brad and which one belongs to me.

I'm trying my hardest to encourage rather than nag. Lord, give me strength.

Monday, May 2, 2011

old and new joints

Photo Credit: The Monocle
Brad and I rarely leave our neighborhood for dinner or entertainment. Granted, we don't get out much. But when we do, it's hard to venture to other parts of the city when we still have places here on the Hill to try.

After nearly 11 years of living on Capitol Hill, we finally made it to The Monocle. The food was simple, but good. The service was outstanding. And we loved the political memorabilia and the restaurant's history. We snagged a booth whose walls housed pictures of a very young looking John Boehner, Brad's first boss on Capitol Hill, and Ray LaHood, my parents' former congressman. We didn't see anyone famous, but we vowed to return on a night when Congress is in session. (And even then, I probably won't recognize anyone, but Brad will.)

Continuing our occasional Saturday morning coffee outings, we went to Pound, a newer coffee shop on the Hill, and we loved it! We got lucky and scored two comfy chairs in the back that overlooked the outdoor seating area.

We're still trying to check all Capitol Hill restaurants and coffee shops off our list . . . we need to go out more and the business boom needs to slow down. We can't keep up!